Perfect Pairings

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Story by Dave Eckert

I have to admit that I didn’t have huge expectations for a column on food and beer pairings. I’ve been to a fair number of beer-themed tastings and dinners, and while I didn’t dislike them, I was largely underwhelmed. That all changed recently in a big way.

I’m going to detail three beer and food matching experiences here in the Kansas City metro that left me impressed and wanting more.

First, a four-course pairing dinner at Pig & Finch restaurant in Leawood. The dinner was organized by General Manager Seth Welch and executed by Executive Chef Joshua Minnich. It couldn’t have been better planned or carried out. “There are some general rules for pairings, but they generally apply to basic dishes,” Welch shared. “General views such as pairing a high acid beverage with a high fat dish to provide balance are becoming a thing of the past thanks in large part to amazing chefs like Joshua here at Pig and Finch who cultivate dishes that are already well-balanced.”

I couldn’t agree more. From the first course of grilled ahi tuna, to the second consisting of a seared sea scallop, to the fantastic roasted duck, to the citrus cheesecake dessert, the dishes were beautifully crafted and balanced, and the beer pairings spot on!  “Scallops are widely considered to be a mild flavored seafood. But I think you can attest, that dish is anything but mild. Sweet corn pudding, ancho chilis, grilled peaches and that heavenly vadouvan curry really punch you in the mouth with complexity,” Welch told me. I couldn’t agree more. Bravo to Welch and Minnich for opening my eyes to how good beer and culinary pairings can be!

Next, I popped over to the Smokestack Tour and Tasting and Boulevard Brewing Company. I actually missed the tour but made it to the tasting (imagine that?).  The tastings, which consist of four beers and four small Smokestack Bites, are organized by Boulevard Brand Ambassador Kyle Hopkins.

“I was an English teacher and a food and beer writer before I came to Boulevard, so for me beer and food are things that have always gone together,” Hopkins said. “In this world, here at Boulevard, it’s actually easy to find food and beer pairings because we make so many beers.”

It’s not just the quantity of beers with which Hopkins works, but the quality. Boulevard’s beers, to my palate, have always been exquisitely crafted. Even the hoppier beers aren’t aggressively so, and the bigger, bolder expressions still retain their elegance.

“I actually think of beer as a flavor component of a dish when I’m doing beer and food pairings,” Hopkins told me. “So, when I want really good, sweet malt flavor, well we’ve got a handful of beers that will fit that bill perfectly.” A good example of that was Hopkins third beer and food pairing for the Smokestack Bites – the Sixth Glass Belgian Quadruple Ale with some Brie and Fig Jam on a piece of Farm to Market cinnamon raisin toast. The beer positively explodes with aromas and flavors of stone fruits with an emphasis on malt rather than hops. The Brie, fig jam, and cinnamon raisin toast not only emphasizes those aromas and the flavors but pulls them all together and puts a bow on it!

Hopkins can get a little esoteric when discussing food and beer matches, or beer in general, but to my palate, he has one of the deftest touches around. Even beers I normally wouldn’t care for like The Calling, a double IPA, showed beautifully with the smoked salmon on pumpernickel bread with crème fraiche and dill.

Well done, Kyle Hopkins! I can’t wait to try your next round of Smokestack Bites.

For my final beer and food epiphany and my next food and beer pairing experience I dropped in on the always terrific Grunauer. We sat at the bar to eat, drink, and chat with Grunauer’s Director of Beverages and Bar Manager Scott Beskow, a man who knows a thing or two about matching malted beverages with cuisine.

“We do beer and food pairings a lot, but mostly on an individual basis,” Beskow shared. “Like someone will be having the goulash and they’ll say, ‘What should I have with that?’ That sort of thing.”

Beskow has some tried and true staples for those type of requests, and unlike Pig and Finch and Boulevard, he’s dealing almost exclusively with European-style beers in a list that has been specifically cultivated to pair with Grunauer’s cuisine. That, he says, gives him an inherent advantage.

“Many times, the beer list is almost an afterthought in a bar or a restaurant, but here, our list was created to match our food. Plus, I don’t have to deal with super hoppy beers or other over the top expressions. Our beer and cuisine pairings are pretty classic stuff,” Beskow stated.

Beskow demonstrated that in a five-course meal that started with a Kolsch matched with a goat cheese salad, followed by a Pilsner served with a beer-battered portabella mushroom, then a Hefeweizen accompanying a curry bratwurst with red cabbage, the aforementioned goulash with a Dunkel, and the classic Sacher torte paired with a Double Bock. The food was delicious, and the pairings spot on!

As an avowed “wine guy” I won’t be switching my beverage of choice anytime soon, but I have to admit I really enjoyed learning more about just how much a good beer (or four) can enhance a meal or a tasting. I can’t wait to continue my education. Prost!

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